Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Genealogy Digital File Folder Organization

I've written about this topic before, but with the Genealogy Do-Over in full swing, and many researchers "starting over" with their digital file folders, I thought it might be a good time to revisit this topic.

My file folder and file naming convention was derived after studying what others had suggested.  My overall goal has been to:

a)  Have a consistent file folder and file naming system so that anyone (especially ME!) can find something in it.

b)  Be able to find a specific file within a few seconds.  Sometimes I don't know if I have a record image or not, so I go check my files.  

c)  Be able to put a new file into the system within a few seconds.

The key to success is to adopt a file folder and file naming system before you start attaching your files to persons and events in your family tree genealogy program.  Then don't change the folder or file names because then you will have to reattach the files.

There are two major parts to my digital file folder system:

1)  File Folder naming:

I have all of my downloaded and scanned documents, photo images and created reports stored in a file folder system that has this heirarchy:

*  My Documents/Genealogy   ---  File folder for genealogy
*  My Documents/Genealogy/Ancestor Files/  --- file folder for Ancestor Files
*  My Documents/Genealogy/Ancestor Files/Family History - "familygroup" -- I have grouped my files by family group (my father, my mother, my wife's, my son-in-law)
*  My Documents/Genealogy/Ancestor Files/Family History - "familygroup"/"surname" --  within each family group, I have a surname folder
*  My Documents/Genealogy/Ancestor Files/Family History - "familygroup"/"surname"/"family" --- each family (husband and wife) has a separate file folder
*  My Documents/Genealogy/Ancestor Files/Family History - "familygroup"/"surname"/"family"/ "filetype" --- within each surname folder, I have several different file types (typically Documents, Reports and Photographs)

Within each of the "filetype" folders are the document and photograph images and saved genealogy reports, articles or books.

Here are some screen shots of the different file folders:

a)  The "Ancestor Files" folder:

This is also where I keep my master lists of items, any testing before I incorporate it, and the records "to be filed" after downloading and entering them into my genealogy family tree software.

b)  The "Surname" file folders  in the "Family History - Seaver-Hildreth-Richmond-White" file folder:

If I have more than one surname line for a surname, I usually add a place name to distinguish them.

c)  The "Family" file folder in the "Seaver-Hildreth-Richmond-White" file folder:

I number my families starting with 01 for the most recent generation with that surname.  I also add additional file folders for the surname when necessary - e.g., a surname book, collected records from vital record books or a website, etc.

d)  In each of these "Family" file folders are the "Filetype" folders:

The Genealogy Reports folder might contain family group sheets, pedigree charts, narrative reports, downloaded or scanned articles or book portions, etc.  Whatever might apply to the particular family.

The Photographs folder might contain photographs of the family members, with the standard file naming convention.

For families with a large number of members, I include a folder for "Related Families" - to cover the aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

e)  Within each of the "Filetype" folders are the individual files (in the "Documents" and "Photographs" folders at least):

In some cases, I have added another file folder level to a "Family" folder for a specific record group that might have a lot of record images - for example, "Probate" or "Deeds" or "Pension File."

 2)  The File Naming Convention in the Filetype folder above usually has these components, separated by a hyphen:

:*  Person's name - first name, middle initial, last name (I use first name first so that all of the records for a family member are grouped together),  I don't use spaces between the parts of the name.
*  Year - the year of the event (I put it second so that the records for a person are in chronological order)
*  Record Type - the type of record in the file 
*  Additional persons in the record - spouses, multi-person pictures, etc.
*  Place Name - the locality where the event occurred
*  Any other useful information - a source name, page number or image number

The file names can get fairly long!  But they are descriptive.  One problem is that the overall file name from C to the end of the file name has to be 256 characters or less.  I shorten some elements when that happens.

I include records of children in their parents file folder until they marry.  Then they go into their own file folder with their spouse.  The marriage record goes into the "family" folder.

I have some inconsistencies in the file names shown above because of the passage of time, and don't want to change them.  As my readers know, I am often imperfect, but always trying to improve (except for typing, it seems).

3)  With this system, I know exactly where to find a record, or put a record, for a specific person.  When I open the Filetype folder, I can find the records for a person in the specific family easily - they're in alphabetical order by first name.  If there are two persons with the same name, then use "1" or "2" or Sr and Jr.

The downside is that there's a lot of clicking to go through the file folder hierarchy to get to the right file folder, but once I'm there it is organized and useful.

4)  If you are considering creating a File Naming convention, be sure to do it before you attach the records to a person or event in your family tree software program. 

Develop your convention, practice with it a bit, tweak it to suit your purposes, and then adopt it and use it for all of your downloaded and scanned records and photographs, and for any genealogy reports or books you create. 

Your file system needs to be yours - what works for you - and you can set it up any way you want. 

This method works really well for me and I'm happy that I created it before I started adding images to my genealogy software program.  With over 1,000 images attached to my database, I don't want to change it now.

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver


Judy Webster said...

It's interesting to see what systems other people use. I've been doing family history for 40 years and I have always filed my records by the type of source/event, not in folders by name. Now, in the digital age, I'm fine-tuning my naming system for digital files, which I've based on the advice in the e-books by Nancy Loe, Organizing Genealogy Research Using Archival Principles and Cataloging Digital Family Photographs and Records.

Unknown said...

I use surname folders. The surname folder goes inside the surname folder based on its link to me. If Sarah Jones marries my ancestor John Smith, the Jones folder goes inside the Smith folder. Her mother's maiden name folder would go inside the Jones folder, etc. Of course my direct line surname folder gets very crowded with subfolders of wives, but it makes direct relatives very accessible and distant relatives don't clutter up my screen. I use Windows Explorer to search my records so I don't worry about "losing" anyone. I also keep separate folders of photos.

For files I name them "surname year eventtype firstname(s)" ex. "Anderson 1918 Marriage Walter Katherine" I like things sorted by year, even if family groups are mixed together. Both sides of the family lived in very small communities and their lives were very much intertwined so I feel like it makes sense to see their records together this way. It also helps that I generally don't have to change file names when uploading images to my online tree.

AnneO said...

You can change your file names from within Legacy using the Picture Centre. This changes the name on your hard drive and keeps the links to the database intact. A very useful tool.

Marian said...

I'm late to this post, and I apologize. Anyone looking for a filing system would be wise to follow your steps. You are so right that establishing a convention and practicing it until it is a habit are fundamental to organization. I follow a file naming convention similar to yours, and I am also sure to keep my genealogy folders and files under the \Documents\ top-level folder, so that they are sure to get backed up, transferred to newer computers, etc.

My own method is lazier. I don't like having to click down through multiple levels of folders to do my work, and I figure that the computer is better than I am at finding files, so I have just a few surname folders and lump all document types and relatives into those, using a naming convention like yours.

Each person's documents fall into a group alphabetically, although there can be some overlapping of dates for James Brown senior and James Brown junior. There is rarely a collision on file names, but adding a little something to the file name will overcome that. Then I attach those documents to source citations in my genealogy (Reunion) database, so I can "bring them up on screen" with a click when I want to recheck whether that date was really in May or maybe in March.

Like Legacy, Reunion offers to search the disk for a file name if it doesn't happen to be where it used to be. Probably RootsMagic and FamilyTreeMaker do that, too.

Dianne said...

Do you re-number families (husband + wife) under Surnames if you discover an additional marriage? If Num 01 is "you"; how do you number your children, grandchildren. I'm trying to set up my system before I get to far along. I'm also a person who likes to "drill down", so I like your system.